Butler’s Faulknerian shuttling back and forth across the decades has less to do with literary pyrotechnics than with cutting to the chase. Perfume River hits its marks with a high-stakes intensity ... Butler’s prose is fluid, and his handling of his many time-shifts as lucid as it is urgent. His descriptive gifts don’t extend just to his characters’ traits or their Florida and New Orleans settings, but to the history he’s addressing ... Perfume River captures both the agony and subtlety of how that happens.
There is great narrative efficiency in the prose, with sentences often spare and matched by constrained dialogue. This is writing harvested from a certain age, the point where people have lived in themselves long enough to stop talking so much, making conversation with little more than body language and breathing ... This is such a quiet novel — domestic, nostalgic, built on caution and patience, with wars seeping underneath. At times, the writing is hallucinatory ... The story builds its force with great care, though the end is a bit hurried, everyone conveniently arranged for collision. Its power is that we want to keep reading. The entire journey is masterfully rendered, Butler lighting a path back into the cave, completely unafraid.
The strength of this novel is its shifting point of view. Butler moves easily among his characters to create a composite portrait of a family that has been wrecked by choices made during the Vietnam War ... The death of a patriarch, the roles of men and women — these contribute to the novel’s old-fashioned atmosphere. The same is true of the novel’s depiction of the Vietnam War era, which has already been well worn not just in Butler’s previous work but in so many books and movies about that time period ... All of this might have been gotten away with 25 years ago, but our thinking about the war, as well as our thinking about how we write about race, sex and gender, have become more nuanced and complex.